Saturday, July 29, 2006

Political news of the week take 17

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Wary Iraqis Are Recruited as Policemen:
“For us to have any kind of exit strategy we need a police force, and for them to take control of the city,” said Capt. Avery Jeffers, a Marine officer in charge of the police training team here. “We need their brothers and sons to become policemen. That is how they will see less and less of us.”

The Bush administration in March announced a new strategy for victory in Iraq: “clear, hold and build.” Contested towns would be swept of insurgents and held by new Iraqi security forces, while the United States worked to solidify the gains by helping to fix the infrastructure and build civic institutions.

The military history in this region, however, is complex. American forces have been stretched thin across the vast province. To mass enough troops to storm Falluja in 2004, American commanders were forced to make do with fewer troops elsewhere.

As a result, the insurgents took advantage of the Americans’ limited numbers, in the long stretch along the Euphrates River that runs from Rawa to Hit, to attack the police. Police stations were overrun and destroyed. In Haditha, I.P.’s, as American soldiers call Iraqi policemen, were lined up and shot at the town’s soccer field.

Relentless Sectarian Violence in Baghdad Stalks Its Victims Even at the Morgues
As violence in the Iraqi capital continue to rise, the task of tracking down missing people here has become a grim ordeal. Iraq’s anemic investigative agencies have been ill-equipped to keep up with soaring crime, so for families seeking information, the morgues have often provided the only certainty.

Now, even the morgues have become a source of danger, at least for Sunni Arabs. In recent months, Shiite militias have been staking out Baghdad’s central morgue in particular, and the authorities have received dozens of reports of kidnappings and killings of Sunni Arabs there.

Many Sunnis now refuse to go there to look for missing family members and are forced to take extraordinary measures to recover a relative’s body, including sending Shiite friends in their stead.

Sectarian break-up of Iraq is now inevitable, admit officials
"Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into (Shia) east and (Sunni) west," he said.

Partisan Divide on Iraq Exceeds Split on Vietnam:
No military conflict in modern times has divided Americans on partisan lines more than the war in Iraq, scholars and pollsters say — not even Vietnam. And those divisions are likely to intensify in what is expected to be a contentious fall election campaign.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows what one expert describes as a continuing “chasm” between the way Republicans and Democrats see the war. Three-fourths of the Republicans, for example, said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while just 24 percent of the Democrats did. Independents split down the m

Audit Finds U.S. Hid Actual Cost of Iraq Projects:
The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq [the United States Agency for International Development] used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.

The agency hid construction overruns by listing them as overhead or administrative costs, according to the audit, written by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office that reports to Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department.


The hospital’s construction budget was $50 million. By April of this year, Bechtel had told the aid agency that because of escalating costs for security and other problems, the project would actually cost $98 million to complete. But in an official report to Congress that month, the agency “was reporting the hospital project cost as $50 million,” the inspector general wrote in his report.

The rest was reclassified as overhead, or “indirect costs.” According to a contracting officer at the agency who was cited in the report, the agency “did not report these costs so it could stay within the $50 million authorization.”


The report said it suspected that other unreported costs on the hospital could drive the tab even higher. In another case cited in the report, a power station project in Musayyib, the direct construction cost cited by the development agency was $6.6 million, while the overhead cost was $27.6 million. The result is that the project’s overhead, a figure that normally runs to a maximum of 30 percent, was a stunning 418 percent.

U.S. Hopes of Cutting Iraq Troop Levels Dim
President Bush's decision to increase the number of U.S. troops in violence-racked Baghdad has forced commanders to extend the tours of 3,500 soldiers and appears to eliminate prospects for significant withdrawals of American forces this year.

Just a month ago, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., came to Washington and presented Bush with a scenario in which the number of combat brigades in Iraq could be reduced from 14 to 12 by September, with two more brigades scheduled for removal by year's end. A brigade typically comprises 3,500 soldiers.

Now, even defense officials who talked of reductions are discounting the prospects of near-term cuts.

ABA: Bush violating Constitution:
President Bush's penchant for writing exceptions to laws he has just signed violates the Constitution, an American Bar Association task force says in a report highly critical of the practice.

The ABA group, which includes a one-time FBI director and former federal appeals court judge, said the president has overstepped his authority in attaching challenges to hundreds of new laws.

The attachments, known as bill-signing statements, say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.

"This report raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy," said the ABA's president, Michael Greco. "If left unchecked, the president's practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries."

Israel takes aim at Hezbollah stronghold (published July 24):
As the crisis entered its 13th day, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced stop Monday in Beirut to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.


Israel has barred the United Nations from sending relief supplies into southern Lebanon, where most of the country's estimated 500,000 internally displaced people are located, according to U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland.

The United Nations is able to take its convoys of humanitarian relief to Beirut, where some 150,000 people are displaced, Egeland said.


An Israeli missile also hit two Red Cross ambulances late Sunday in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, killing one person and seriously wounding two others, a Red Cross official said.

The official said the ambulances were clearly marked as Red Cross vehicles and were part of an effort to transport the wounded to hospitals in Tyre.

To Flee or to Stay? Family Chooses Too Late and Pays Dearly
Muntaha Shaito’s eyes rolled back as the paramedics screamed at her to stay awake and implored her son Ali to keep her engaged, as she teetered near death from shrapnel wounds inflicted by an Israeli rocket.

“Pray to God!,” one paramedic shouted at her as she writhed in Ali’s arms.

“Don’t go to sleep Mama, look at me!,” Ali shouted, tears streaking his bloodied face. “Don’t die, please don’t die!”

It was the scene that members of the extended Shaito family said they had feared most, the real reason they had held out for days in their village of Tireh in southern Lebanon, terrified of the Israeli bombardment, but more terrified of what might happen if they risked leaving. On Sunday they gave up their stand, and all 18 members crammed into the family’s white Mazda minivan. They planned to head north toward the relative safety of Beirut.

Within minutes they became casualties of Israel’s 12-day-old bombardment of southern Lebanon, which the Israelis say they will continue indefinitely to destroy the military abilities of Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group. By the Lebanese official count, Israel’s attacks have killed more than 380 Lebanese.

An Israeli rocket, which Lebanese officials said was likely fired from a helicopter, slammed into the center of the Shaitos’ van as it sped round a bend a few miles west of their village, and the van crashed into a hillside. Three occupants were killed: an uncle, Mohammad; the grandmother, Nazira; and a Syrian man who had guarded their home. The missile also critically wounded Mrs. Shaito and her sister. Eleven others suffered less severe wounds.

U.S. Says It Knew of Pakistani Reactor Plan
The Bush administration acknowledged yesterday that it had long known about Pakistan's plans to build a large plutonium-production reactor, but it said the White House was working to dissuade Pakistan from using the plant to expand its nuclear arsenal.

"We discourage military use of the facility," White House spokesman Tony Snow said of a powerful heavy-water reactor under construction at Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site in Punjab state.

The reactor, which reportedly will be capable of producing enough plutonium for as many as 50 bombs each year, was brought to light on Sunday by independent analysts who spotted the partially completed plant in commercial-satellite photos. Snow said the administration had "known of these plans for some time."

The acknowledgment came as arms-control experts and some in Congress expressed alarm about a possible escalation of South Asia's arms race.

Judiciary Republicans Vote Against Minimum Wage
Today House Judiciary Republicans voted resoundingly against giving working families an increase in the minimum wage.

In a bill to shield equipment manufacturers from workplace injury lawsuits (H.R. 3509), Republicans defeated an amendment by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee which would have limited liability relief to only those companies that pay their employees a minimum wage of $7.25. The amendment was defeated on a party line vote, with all Democrats voting yes, and all Republicans voting no.

This amendment is a common sense attempt to counter a bill that strips hard working Americans of their ability to obtain justice. There is no reason that we should be enabling workplace injury while neglecting to provide a living wage to employees.


The minimum wage has stagnated at $5.15 an hour for nine years. A person working full-time at the minimum wage would only earn $10,700 annually

Minimum wage increase tied to tax cuts: House leadership couples bill to estate tax measure
Republican leaders are willing to allow the first minimum wage increase in a decade but only if it's coupled with a cut in future inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates, congressional aides said Friday.

A package GOP leaders planned to bring to a vote Friday or Saturday in the House also would renew several popular tax breaks, including a research and development credit for businesses, and deductions for college tuition and state sales taxes, said a spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner.

The wage would increase from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour, phased in over the next three years, said Kevin Madden, the aide to Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

The maneuver is aimed at defusing the wage hike as a campaign issue for Democrats while using its popularity to spur enactment of the Republican Party's long-sought goal of permanently cutting taxes on millionaires' estates.

Minimum Wage Fight Heads to the Senate
Under the minimum wage proposal, the rate would increase from the current $5.15 per hour in three increments, reaching $7.25 in June 2009. It would also allow tips to be counted toward minimum wage increases in some states where that is now prohibited, a provision Democrats said would cut wages for thousands of workers in those states.

House Republican leaders said their Senate counterparts had argued that the only way the wage increase would survive in the Senate was if it was coupled with the estate tax reductions. To sweeten the pot even more, Republicans moved $38 billion in a wide array of tax breaks to the estate tax bill from a pension overhaul that was approved Friday.

“What we have done is try to package this to succeed in getting the minimum wage through the other body,” said Representative Bill Thomas, Republican of California and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.


The minimum wage vote came after House Republican leaders scrambled to respond to appeals from Republicans in the Northeast and the Midwest who said they needed to dilute escalating Democratic attacks and were worried they would be pounded in the August recess by labor groups. Some Republicans said they would have preferred that the wage increase be tied to legislation other than the estate tax cut, with a health initiative for small businesses one popular alternative.

But Republican leaders seized on the opportunity to advance the estate tax plan, and advocates of a wage increase went along. “It could have been done differently,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, “but it is done.”


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